By Kingsley Wijayasinha
The Nation Weekend
Mercedes-Benz has been organising driver training events in Thailand for almost two decades, and the 2018 event turns out to be the most extravagant yet.
Called the Mercedes-AMG Driving Experience (MADE), this year’s driving event goes back to Chang International Circuit in Buriram with as many as 140 members of the Thai auto media as well as 600 customers taking part from October 13-21.
While the full range of Mercedes models marketed in Thailand were provided at the circuit again this year including many Mercedes-AMG models (previously the event was named Mercedes-Benz Driving Experience), the German auto maker also took the opportunity to launch three new models. They include the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S 4MATIC+ and two locally assembled models – the Mercedes-AMG C 43 4MATIC Coupe and the Mercedes-Benz C 200 Coupe AMG Dynamic.
The E 63, which was offered for a small group of selected motoring journalists (including me) to drive, is powered by a 4.0-litre bi-turbo engine developing 612hp with over 800Nm of torque, propelling the saloon from 0-100km/h in just 3.4 seconds. Another group got to drive the GTC, the open top sports car, also powered by a 4.0-litre bi-turbo engine with 557hp. Acceleration from 0-100km/h takes 3.7 seconds and the top speed is claimed at 317kph.
Participants took part in four training stations that are designed to help improve driving skills and increase safety on the road. They include “Brake and Swerve”, “ESP Exercise”, “Motorkhana” and “Cornering Theory”.
The instructor team comprises top Australian and Thai race drivers who are also experts at driver training. Many of these Aussie guys have been at this event for many years, and are no stranger to Thailand.
Roland Folger, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz (Thailand) Ltd, said the event is targeted to enhance driving skills for customers, in order to understand how to properly handle sports cars “under close supervision of professional driving instructors and road racers”.
The MADE event has been gaining popularity over the years, and the growth of the Mercedes-AMG sub brand in Thailand helps fuel it further. During the first nine months of 2018, Mercedes-AMG sales have shot up by 350 per cent compared with the same period last year, due mainly to introduction of locally assembled models such as the C 43 Coupe. Presently there are 11 Mercedes-AMG models available in the Thai market.
“At present, 11 Mercedes-AMG models—both imported models and locally-made ones—are available in Thailand covering all key categories including four-cylinder compact vehicles and saloon vehicles with various engine setups, SUVs, coupes, cabriolets, roadsters, and flagship vehicles in AMG GT family,” Frank Steinacher, vice president for sales and marketing at Mercedes-Benz (Thailand) Ltd, said.
I have been taking part in the driving events by Mercedes-Benz in Thailand since the start, and although they are surely beneficial to the novice driver, seasoned drivers may find it a little boring. The large number of participants in each day also meant that driving skills vary, and it is difficult for organisers to raise the difficulty level (or the speeds used on track) too much.
While driving the fiery E 63 at Chang (check out the video at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL60yMkBjrbpdyxfs1A_aIw19DnSkJL0vI) was super-exciting and the instructor was excellent (I had Aussie race driver Nathan Antones in the passenger seat), the drive (in Sport+ mode with traction control on) was way too short (just out of the pit and in).
Nevertheless, for the majority of those who took part, smiles were on their faces by the time the day’s programme ended. Tired, but happy. After all it isn’t often that you get to drive performance vehicles at a world-class circuit like Chang and get a chance to polish your driving skills with some basic exercises.
Details of each station
“1st Station: Brake and Swerve” is designed to demonstrate the braking system of Mercedes-Benz vehicles as well as other systems assisting the driver when a brake pedal is being pushed down, namely ESP (Electronic Stability Programme) and ABS. It additionally tests the driver’s response to road indicators or signals requiring a stop. Each participant will be asked to accelerate the vehicle to 80 km/h from the start line, then slow down the vehicle by pushing down the brake pedal once a roadside indicator is turned on, either on the left or right. And, finally, avoid obstacles by veering the vehicle to the direction in which the light is turned on.
“2nd Station: ESP Exercise” is based on a critical scenario a driver may experience behind the wheel. With standees imitating pedestrians, each participant will be instructed to manoeuvre the vehicle during an arising incident and be aware of a safer route ahead by properly using the driver’s field of vision. From the speed of 80 km/h, the driver must avoid obstacles on the right by accurately noticing an exit course on the left, swerve the vehicle towards a safer route indicated without applying the brakes, and keep steering the vehicle to finish line. Accident avoidance manoeuvres like this can automatically activate ESP -- a proactive safety system reducing current speed of the vehicle by 30 km/h.
“3rd Station: Motorkhana” is inspired by a type of motorsport race. Each participant must quickly finish a course full of obstacles without hitting a traffic cone or fence, etc.
“4th Station: Cornering Theory” utilises four curves of Chang International Circuit to instruct all participants on how to effortlessly control the vehicle upon cornering. With different track width and indicators, each participant can properly practice cornering by apply specific actions as indicated such as applying the brakes, turning the steering wheel accordingly, or pushing down on the acceleration pedal at apex zone so the vehicle is quickly steered away from a curve.